How do we calm ourselves when we’re worried about something? We’ll be reminded of something – maybe someone around us gets sick or we get news about our own health. It’s natural to try to figure out what to do.
All of our usual supports are helpful when we’re in an activated state: relaxing our body, bringing our mind in from other times and places, witnessing thought, focusing on breath. If we’re really anxious, we could do box breathing or 3 minutes of relaxing our forehead instead of worrying. We could tap or trace on the thoughts. Go for a walk, call a friend, read aloud.
Patience and kindness are called for when we’re activated.
Our mind always goes into catastrophic thinking. It’s part of our survival system. When something feels threatening, we want to help ourselves, to cover all the bases, to figure out what to do. It’s a natural function of our survival system but it causes a lot of suffering. We’re usually getting ahead of ourselves.
We feel so powerless. We come face to face with the vulnerability of our human body and that of our friends, family, people and events we care about.
The content of our thoughts will be different but we share a common feeling of being stirred up. Many of us will have a memory from the past of feeling this way or for you it could be right here, right now. We don’t know what’s going to happen.
In 2004, my son was misdiagnosed with a type of cancer that was terminal within 2 years. It took 9 weeks to find out he didn’t have cancer at all. I had a lot of practice working with catastrophic thinking during that time. I was astounded how my mind would go years into the future. I’m at his bedside as he’s dying. He’s dead. His daughter … All of these scenarios play out and we scare ourselves. We somehow think rehearsing disaster will help cushion the blow if it happens. This is not true.
The remedy is to keep bringing ourselves back with kindness. Notice what is happening right now, in this moment. I reminded myself that this was an understandable response for a mother experiencing this level of threat. I noticed my shoulders up around my ears and relaxed them hundreds of times a day. I spent a lot of time in nature.
I had been meditating for 12 years at that time and was surprised at how triggered I was and how many times I had to bring myself back. Take a few deep breaths. Relax my shoulders. Again! Remind myself that right now, in this moment, I could breathe and be present and patient with my catastrophic mind.